January is the National Association of Professional Organizers’ Get Organized Month. The timing makes sense as many people tend to be focused on resolutions, goals, and ambitions at the beginning of the year. But, in addition to the calendar year changing, holidays, your birthday, and even the change in seasons are great times to focus on the things you’d like to accomplish and begin implementing a plan of attack.
Still, even with the best intentions, you might find yourself struggling to stay in touch with your usually motivated self. You didn’t mean for things to end up this way, they just did. In fact, you most likely started out with an abundance of enthusiasm. You were in sync with the part of yourself that was feeling particularly inspired. And, then one day you realized that you sort of drifted apart. You started putting those important goals aside until you didn’t feel like doing them anymore. Your motivation simply got up and left.
For most of us, the break up with the positive feelings that keep us pushing toward a goal is not uncommon. We even know when it’s going to happen. A new study conducted by Andrea Bonezzi, assistant marketing professor at New York University’s Stern School of Business et al. appears to back this up:
Whether you have a business goal of increasing market share, hope to lose 20 pounds, or have vowed to read Moby Dick, you may have noticed that somewhere around midway to your goal, motivation wanes … this sort of fourth-inning slump is a common, predictable pattern.
The author goes on to say that if your starting and ending points seem very distant from each other, you’re likely to “lose motivation to keep working toward that goal.” What should you do if your motivation deserts you? Though you might be feeling the burdensome weight of a (seemingly) irreparable relationship with your formerly motivated self, there are specific actions you can take win your motivation back.
The first step, of course, is to recognize that feeling less eager to complete a task may very well happen. Life’s little (and big) adventures can sometimes leave you feeling discouraged. But, since you know this ahead of time, you can:
Make a solid plan
By now, you’ve read some of our posts that suggest you break your goals (especially the big, hairy ones) into manageable, attainable chunks. To fortify your resolve and keep moving positively toward your goal, why not also include mini trophies for each milestone you reach or task you accomplish? Knowing that you have something to look forward at various points in your journey can help you stay motivated. You might choose to have different rewards for small steps and a large one when you’ve reached the finish line.
Join a program or support group
Think you need a bit more support to get your motivation back even though you have a well crafted plan? There is truth to there being strength in numbers, so consider seeking the support of others. You may want to take a look at Peter Walsh’s 31 Days to Get Organized challenge. He has been sharing daily organizing tips on his Facebook page ranging from getting control of kids toys to tackling paper piles. Since many of his tips are recorded, you can watch them whenever you need to on YouTube. In the Unclutterer Forums, we have an active group of people who are trying this challenge and writing about their successes and hiccups in our community. The discussion is Peter Walsh’s January Organizing Challenge, if you’re interested in participating.
The Apartment Therapy January Home Cure (daily tips and ideas to stay motivated) is coming a close soon, but you can still sign up and see all the Cure assignments. They will also be offering another Cure later in the year, but, in the meantime, check out the companion book, Apartment Therapy: The Eight-Step Home Cure. Again, we have a group in the Unclutterer Forums discussing their progress in this program in the discussion January Home Cure.
Use resources that you’ve had success with in the past
If you’ve ever read a book or blog post or even listened to a podcast that left you feeling ready to conquer your projects, dust them off and give them a second look. Chances are, if they worked for you in the past, they’re likely to work for you again. Of course, you can check out some of our previous posts on what to do when you just don’t feel very inspired. You can also hop on over to the Unclutterer Forum to share your experiences.
Take something off your plate
I’ve discovered that sometimes my motivation goes on walkabout when I have said “yes” one time too many. I want to be helpful, but more than that, I want to make sure that when I do say yes, I can do my absolute best. Feelings of being overwhelmed and stressed can increase when you feel pulled in too many directions. Take a look at your responsibilities to see if there is something you can share or pass on to someone else entirely. You’ll breathe a little easier and will probably start feeling more positive.
Though you may not feel as enthusiastic about your goals as you did at the outset, don’t give up. Revise your plan and look for ways you can keep your spirits and motivation high.
I watched an incredible tennis match recently. On Centre Court at Wimbledon, the number two player in the world, Rafael Nadal, was in a heated battle with Lukas Rosol, a player ranked 100 and not very well known. Nadal, though being tested, was expected to not only win, but to do so in his usual commanding style. In the end, Rosol stunned everyone when he turned the tables and won. In the post-match interview, Nadal said, “I just played an inspired opponent.” Rosol, who also thought that he wouldn’t win, said that he just didn’t want to lose poorly. As a result, he was extremely motivated, focused, and played in a way that far exceeded even his expectations.
But, what happens when your focus and motivation seem to desert you? Even the most well-intentioned and commited person has days when he or she doesn’t feel motivated to do much of anything. Tasks (whether the plan is to take care of some long delayed “fix-its” around the house or complete an important project) can seem daunting, boring, or you just might feel like doing something else. Rather than focus on the things you shouldn’t do (like procrastinate), a better strategy would be to set your sights on things you can do until your motivation returns.
When you feel like putting your important goals on the back burner, consider:
- Making a list and short-term plan. The first step is to create a list because that will get everything out of your head. Writing down the things you need to do (or entering them in your smart phone or a text file on your computer) will help you to categorize and prioritize your tasks, and, ultimately, create a short-term plan for that day. This temporary plan can help you to get moving, keep you focused, and allow you to include other activities you want to do.
- Think of the end result. Thinking about the long list of things that you have to do probably won’t give you the needed push to get stuff done, but thinking about how amazing or proud you’ll feel when you accomplish even the smallest of goals, just might be all you need to jump start your productivity. To remind yourself of that amazing feeling, think back to a time when you did your best work. While you’re at it, look back at the steps you took to reach your goals to see if you can do something similar to turn your current situation around.
- Go ahead and do something else … for a short while and then come back to your project or task. When you’re feeling stuck in lack-of-motivation land, you may need a change of scenery, a bite to eat, or perhaps a jog around the neighborhood to get your juices flowing. In fact, exercising can improve your mood and help you focus and work efficiently. The New York Times recently reported that:
In humans, exercise improves what scientists call “executive function,” the set of abilities that allows you to select behavior that’s appropriate to the situation, inhibit inappropriate behavior and focus on the job at hand in spite of distractions. Executive function includes basic functions like processing speed, response speed and working memory, the type used to remember a house number while walking from the car to a party.
- Start with the easiest thing first. As you look at your list, pick the thing that is the easiest to complete because you’ll be able to get it done quickly. You probably won’t need (much) help doing these types of tasks and you can cross them off your list immediately. When you get things done, you’re likely to be motivated to do more. Sometimes, turning your to do items into a game (how much can you accomplish in 10 minutes) or trying to beat your personal best (can you do more than what you did the day before) can also push you forward.
- Phone a friend. Still feeling like putting your work plans aside? You’ll probably benefit from calling in reinforcements, literally. Having someone else encourage you or check-in with you can be very motivating. Sometimes, all it takes is a different perspective, a friendly nudge, or even a little healthy competition to get you moving.
Or, maybe you just need a body double. Judith Kohlberg, the author of Conquering Chronic Disorganization and ADD Friendly Ways to Organize Your Life, describes a body double as a person who “… functions as an anchor. The presence of a human anchor focuses another person and makes it possible … to ignore distractions.”
Though the body double (or accountability partner) is present while you work and not actively involved with what you’re doing (and quiet), they still help you to get things done by staying on task. If you think this would be too distracting, use a timer to keep you on track. When it goes off, you will be released from that task so that you can do something else.
There will always be days when you don’t feel like working. It helps to come up with a few strategies that can put you in the frame of mind to work productively (like a quiet room, clear desk, co-working, etc.). Test out some of the suggestions from today’s post to see if they’ll work for you. Usually, once you get started, you’ll be inspired to keep going. And, you just might end up having more spectacular days like Lukas Rosol did this past June.